According to Pew Research, there are 85 million mothers in the US today and, according to the Bureau of Labor, 71 percent of women with children under 18 work.
Maternity leave, whether paid and part of a benefits package or unpaid under the Family & Medical Leave Act, is a crucial way for mothers to take the time they need to care for a new baby without worrying about losing their job. It’s a major component of finding that work-life balance. But returning to work after maternity leave is no easy task—logistically or emotionally. HR can help new moms with this transition back into the workforce. Here are three strategies to support mothers returning to work:
Make nursing rooms comfortable. Since 2010, federal law has required that most nonexempt workers have a place to express breast milk that isn’t a bathroom. But meeting the minimum requirements isn’t enough—pumping can be stressful when a new mom is trying to attend meetings and meet deadlines, as well as take time to ensure her baby will have food. A comfortable environment will ease anxiety about this part of a mother’s routine. A comfy place to sit, a small fan, and a table make the pumping process much easier, and keeping a fridge in the nursing room means moms don’t have to store breast milk in the kitchen fridge. This reduces stress for mothers about contamination.
Offer flexible schedules. The baby has a fever and has to stay home from daycare, the nanny has a family emergency and can’t make it today—new moms are juggling issues like these all the time. Your HR department can allow new moms to work remotely or flex their schedules to meet work obligations while caring for their new baby and their family. In fact, the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy Study revealed that employees believe the most empathetic workplace behaviors are understanding and respecting the need for time off to take care of personal family or medical issues, and understanding and respecting the need for flexible working hours.
Implementing flexible schedule strategies will facilitate new moms’ balancing of work and family priorities. It also distinguishes your organization as one that values empathy and is dedicated to helping women participate in the workforce. This can benefit your entire company by helping to retain current employees and attract recruits who are seeking work-life balance in an employer.
Support “baby” steps. When a new mom comes back from maternity leave, make sure no one plops files on her desk and assumes everything is back to normal. Set up time for your returning employee to meet with her coworkers and her manager in a relaxed setting, such as a welcome-back breakfast or lunch. These gatherings provide a stress-free way for her to catch up on new initiatives or activities, and they help employees re-acclimate to their roles as team members.
Also, work with your new mom to start her return on a day that isn’t a Monday. The transition back to work can be difficult, so beginning with a shortened week can go a long way towards making that transition as positive as possible.
With unemployment at record lows, employers need to up their support game with it comes to attracting and retaining women with children. Set your organization apart by supporting moms in the workplace with benefits that specifically align with their needs.
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